Trump has hurt himself with the military, family members say

Trump has hurt himself with the military, family members say
© Getty Images

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE's recent attacks on the Muslim parents of a fallen soldier have hurt him with military families, veterans and some survivors say.

Trump's criticism of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, who lost their son, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, in the Iraq War in 2004, came off as an attack on all veterans, some said.  

ADVERTISEMENT
"This week, when you chose to disparage the family of an American soldier who gave his life in combat, you chose to disparage all of us," said one letter to Trump signed by a bipartisan group of 40 prominent veterans and family members.  

"Just because someone served or lost loved ones doesn't mean we have a blank check. ... But no one should ever question someone's service and sacrifice," said Bill Rausch, Iraq veteran and executive director of Got Your 6, one of the groups that signed another letter.  

Khizr Khan, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention last week with his wife by his side, criticized Trump's call for a Muslim immigration ban, asked what Trump had sacrificed for the country, and waved a pocket-sized version of the Constitution while questioning whether the GOP presidential nominee had ever read it.

Trump responded by musing about why Ghazala Khan did not speak, suggesting she "had nothing to say" or "wasn't allowed to have anything to say." He also said he had sacrificed by creating "thousands and thousands of jobs" and building "great structures."  

Trump's criticism hits especially hard with Gold Star families — the name given to those who have lost loved ones to combat — said Ami Neiberger-Miller, whose younger brother Christopher was killed in the Iraq War and would have turned 31 on Wednesday.  

"I was horrified by the remarks. I found them very disturbing," said Neiberger-Miller. "[Gold Star families] have also been very upset by it. They perceived it as an attack on a fellow Gold Star family."  

Neiberger-Miller, who lost her brother in 2007, said there is a great reluctance within the Gold Star family community to criticize and judge one another, since each family has its own coping mechanism. Trump's attacks went against that unspoken agreement, she said.  

"It's upsetting to see a Gold Star family being criticized," she said. "When I saw [Ghazala Khan] onstage, I interpreted that as strength."  

Neiberger-Miller said she has known Khan for years, since her brother's gravestone is only a few rows away from their son's at the Arlington Cemetery's Section 60, for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. She said Khan's tombstone is now piled with "a mountain" of flowers and notes.  

Kristine Schellhaas, the wife of a Marine and author of "15 Years of War," said many people "love Trump for his brash, call-it-as-he-sees-it rhetoric, but this time, Trump’s gone too far in the eyes of the military members and their families."  

"As a mother who lost her son, I know the feeling of being unable to talk about his loss. I too have felt like Mrs. Khan, unable to find the words to describe the chasm in my heart that will never heal. To set her up and ridicule her as a Gold Star mom is cruel," she said.  

"This isn’t about being Republican or Democrat, it’s about being a human being with a moral compass. Trump has gone too far and he’s lost a lot of military supporters because of it. He owes the Gold Star community and Khan family an apology," she said.   

Rausch said he's spoken with hundreds of military veterans in recent days. 

"It has had an impact, but we'll have to see what the polls say," he said.  

There has not been any official polling of the military community since the controversy erupted, but some say the speed with which the letters were issued, as well as the diversity of the signatories, is telling.  

And the veteran community is not one that either candidate can afford to lose, said Duke University military historian Peter Feaver.  

"It's been a long, long, long tradition" for presidential candidates to seek the support of military veterans, he said. "9/11 revived the need for national security credentialing."  

Paul Rieckhoff, founder and chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), who was one of the 40 signatories, said support from military veterans is a "political jump ball."  

In an IAVA survey of its members taken in May, a plurality of 38 percent were "unaffiliated" with either party, he said. 

Before the controversy, a Military Times survey in July of active duty troops and reservists showed that Trump was leading Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE 49 percent to 20 percent. Thirty percent said they would either vote for a third-party candidate or not vote at all.  

Jeremy Hilton, a Navy veteran, Air Force spouse and 2012 Military Spouse of the Year, said: "While many of us don’t like either major party candidate, this last week’s comments by Mr. Trump and his campaign have been very disappointing and makes many wonder whether or not he has the temperament to put our loved ones in harm's way."